Egon Schiele’s early watercolors and drawings of nude or scantily clad women are some of the most technically sophisticated and provocative images in the history of Western art. While these raw and often vulnerable depictions of young women caused a great deal of scandal during Schiele’s lifetime, the artist’s more prescient contemporaries, including his mentor Gustav Klimt, recognized the unmatched sophistication and perspicacity in his rendering of the human form. The great appeal of the present work lies in the remarkable character with which Schiele imbues his subject. In most of the artist’s later depictions of nude or half-clothed models the face is partially, or even completely, obscured. This is the case here: Schiele’s model, his sister Gertrude, gazes off to the side, her features further hidden by the arrangement of her body. He emphasizes the strong contours of her shoulders to evoke tension in her muscles, particularly her outstretched right hand and her left hand reaching across her body, pressing against her skin.
As Jane Kallir writes: “Schiele’s women are…thoroughly modern. Like most modern women, they own their sexuality. The nude and semi-nude models take pride in their seductive bodies and are empowered by their allure... Nor are they projections of the artist’s ego. They combine the mystery and the specificity of complete, independent human beings” (Jane Kallir, Egon Schiele’s Women, Munich, 2012, p. 266). The model’s figure is outlined in unbroken, emphatic lines of black crayon. The economy of Schiele's line sharpens these effects; his contours are assured, varied and unerringly interwoven throughout. In the later drawings, Schiele achieved a fluidity that matched the confidence of his subjects.
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